Posts Tagged ‘Portland Schools’


Teaching and Learning Outside

November 17, 2020

You in or out or ?

During the last few months we’ve been hearing about moving the classroom outside since it is safer than being inside during the pandemic. Many teachers patched together how to teach online in the spring, the summer studying how to teach online and simultaneously with students in person. Many are holding their breath that the pandemic doesn’t worsen so they are forced to go full time online once again and I see in the news this morning that is happening in some schools across the state of Maine.

In the Maine Sunday Telegram this past weekend an article was included written by Rachel Ohm about what many Maine school districts and teachers are doing to move learning outdoors. The benefit to students learning visual arts outside are numerous. Close observation for drawing, painting, sculpting and actual experiences with a variety of textures are just two examples that make the curriculum more authentic and engage learners at a deeper level.

PORTLAND, ME – NOVEMBER 13: Katie West teaches an outdoor art class to third graders in the woods at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland on Friday, November 13, 2020. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)


The article includes how art teacher Katie West is using an outdoor classroom at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland. As long as her students are safe she plans to continue teaching outside. Her classroom includes a tarp with waterproof cushions and stumps for students to stay appropriately space. I’m sure some of you are wondering about the winter elements and learners being prepared with the clothing to keep them warm. Fortunately the school district is using some of their relief funds to purchase clothing for students; 500 hats and 1,000 pairs of gloves have been distributed to students. Six-hundred pairs of snow pants are expected to arrive after Thanksgiving. An order of fleece will be cut up into blankets and neck warmers. Katie has received a $1,000 grant to start a gear exchange for the students at Lyseth.


South Portland Schools have created over 90 outdoor learning spaces across eight schools for outdoor instruction to take place. The grades K-5 students in Freeport have the option for remote learning with the Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and the Environment. In Alna the the PK-grade 5 Juniper Hill School has been teaching and learning outside since it was established in 2011 with the school’s focus on nature. At Sweetland School in Hope (where I teach) over the summer a gazebo was built so teaching and learning can take place in a location protected from the elements. Along with the gazebo they have a greenhouse complete with a wood stove that is used for another outdoor learning space.

PORTLAND, ME – NOVEMBER 13: Third grader Gianna Meas works on her painting of a tree during an outdoor art class in the woods at Lyseth Elementary School in Portland on Friday, November 13, 2020. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)


About a year ago Kate Ehrenfeld Gardoqui wrote an article that was published in Education Week called The Irrefutable Case for Taking Class Outside. She told a story about being at a Teacher of the Year event when someone made this comment to her: “Oh, you do the nature stuff, right? That sounds so fun!” As visual and performing arts educators we can relate to that type of comment, right? Kate works with the Great Schools Partnership and is the cofounder of White Pine Programs, a nature-connection organization in southern Maine. She was a finalist for the 2011 Maine State Teacher of the Year. Needless to say Kate is no slouch when it comes to teaching and learning. She included in her article that teachers who simply don’t know what is taught and learned in outdoor education can’t possibly understand the potential of the curriculum. Her story drives the point home about how we not only have to education children but adults as well.

I heard from Kate yesterday and she said how inspiring the work that Maine schools are doing opening the door to incorporating outdoor learning throughout the school day. She shared information about three schools.

  • Kingfield Elementary, where teacher Selina Green Warren has spearheaded a vibrant gardening program, and principal Johanna Prince has supported many teachers in exploring the possibilities of outdoor learning. LEARN MORE. Selina’s work was started before the pandemic; when teachers at her school started searching for ways to bring learning outside, they realized what an amazing asset Selina’s garden was.
  • Great Works School in South Berwick has also been doing some amazing work on building year-round environments for outdoor learning. Here is an article about LEARN MORE.
  • Kate recently published a blog on the Great Schools Partnership page about some other programs that have been inspiring her. LEARN MORE.


” On the whole, my deepest wish is that one legacy of this pandemic is that more teachers will recognize the incredible value of learning experiences that don’t happen inside classrooms. There’s been so much loss, but I’m hoping that this might be one silver lining.

There’s plenty of resources available for those considering ‘taking your classroom outside’ I certainly agree with Kate and in addition I know that quality education programs in the Arts are not only providing deep meaningful learning but holding the hope in our hearts and minds that we will get through this pandemic and be better people for it!


Arts Learning Grant Recipient

April 18, 2018

Learning Works

Heather Davis and Amy Pichette

I had the chance to meet with Heather Davis, Executive Director of LearningWorks and Amy Pichette Learning Works After School (LWAS) Team Program Director recently. I learned about their comprehensive after school programs, had a tour of the Portland facility and to visit one of their after school programs at Reiche School. LearningWorks received Maine Arts Commission Arts Learning grant funds for the 2017-18 school year.

LearningWorks Mission

LearningWorks reimagines learning through innovative programs that help children, adults, and families realize their potential and build thriving communities. 

I asked Heather to answer some questions so the Maine Arts Education blog audience could learn more about the LWAS program.

What do you see/know are the greatest benefit(s) to students at Reiche and the other schools you are working with to offer the afterschool program?

The greatest benefits to students in the LearningWorks LWAS program are the opportunities to continue building skills, background knowledge, and confidence in a supportive environment.We love afterschool because it is flexible and student centered. We are able to provide students with structured learning activities, but the students can help guide the direction of the ship based on their inherent interests.

What do you hope that students will remember or will be saying in the near or far off future about the opportunity to learn in this manner?

We hope students will remember the experiences they had while participating in LearningWorks Afterschool and how it helped them perform better in school. We also hope that the students develop new interests and skills through participation in activities they may not have had the opportunity to participate in if they weren’t a part of LearningWorks Afterschool. For example, those students who participated in the Portland Youth Dance Club are developing new dance skills and it is our hope that some of the students will be able to take advantage of participating in Portland Youth Dance beyond their time in LWAS and it can becomes a lifelong engaging activity for them.

Success story

A LearningWorks Afterschool/Portland Youth Dance success story comes from our performance yesterday afternoon (Wednesday, April 4th, 2018) during our LearningWorks Afterschool/Portland Youth Dance Final Showcase. All six groups (Reiche, East End, Ocean Avenue, Presumpscot, Hall and Riverton Schools) of LWAS/PYD dancers traveled to the Casco Bay Movers Studios to show off their dances to their peers, parents, and the community. The energy in the room is like no other…students are full of excitement and nerves. Some dancers are so nervous when they walk into the studio, they don’t want to dance. But, when the music starts, every dancer is ready to use their dance energy. There are constant cheers of support from the audience and the other dancers throughout each and every performance. The room was packed and this year’s performance had the most dance participants and the most parent/community audience members than any of our showcases in the past. One dancer from Hall School had 14 family members attend the performance! This is the best day of the year!

This video is on the Learning Works After School Portland Facebook

Check out the energy of the dancers and the crowd – Ocean Avenue’s dance team.

LearningWorks Commitment

LearningWorks is committed to strengthening the communities we serve by providing free community-based education programs for children, adults, and families throughout Southern Maine. Our primary goal is to support academic and personal success for our neighbors who lack resources and/or fall outside traditional educational structures. Our unique blend of academics, youth development, and social and emotional expertise makes it possible for us to transition our students from a place of struggle and hopelessness to a place of possibility and opportunity.

LearningWorks History

In the mid-1960s, residents of Portland’s West End neighborhood banded together to advocate for change on behalf of families who were struggling to maintain affordable housing. This coalition became known as Portland West in 1967. Through its housing rights work, Portland West came to appreciate that education is the best pathway out of poverty. Thus, the group reoriented its mission to focus on education.

LearningWorks’ journey from a grassroots neighborhood advocacy group to a unique and innovative education nonprofit has been long and remarkable. In late 2016, our staff and board joined forces to rewrite our organizational mission statement to focus on the concept of “reimagining learning” to help Mainers of all ages realize their potential and build thriving communities.

As we celebrate 50 years of service, we look to the future with a focus on what we do best: reaching students that no one else can reach; breaking down barriers to create educational opportunities for all; and helping people of all ages and backgrounds achieve academic and personal success.

LearningWorks AfterSchool (LWAS) provides free, high-quality afterschool and summer programs for students in grades 2-5 who are below grade level and come from families that cannot afford a paid afterschool enrichment or tutoring program. The curriculum utilizes an innovative blend of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) and literacy to help improve each child’s academic standing, all in a safe and supportive environment. The primary focus of the afterschool program is academic enrichment through project-based, hands-on, and engaging curriculum. Transportation and a snack are provided.


In Today’s News

July 29, 2016

Portland students the big winners

An anonymous donor is giving $450,000 to provide three more years of arts funding to the Portland School District, bringing his total contributions to more than $1 million in seven years. Read more by CLICKING HERE.

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Painting for a Purpose

September 21, 2012

The meartsed blog interviewed Tina Edwards who tells the story of how individuals with a passion for painting and caring about education and youth are making a difference.

1.   Please tell the meartsed readers about “Painting for a Purpose”. How did it get started, whose idea was it for the project, how long has it been in place?

Painting for a Purpose (PFP) got started in a couple of ways.

I took a “Fanciful Furniture Painting” class in Cape Cod in the summer of 2006.  I really loved it. One of the things that I loved was how easy it was to get started and another was the great group of women who had been attending this class for years. The class meets weekly. They were all so creative and cheered each other on by giving ideas and support. When I came back to Maine, I really wanted to find a group to paint with.

In 2009, I reconnected with a friend, Jane Ellis. She and I had worked together in the Portland Public Schools and she had recently retired. We went for a walk one day and began talking about how much we liked to paint. She has done watercolors for several years. We got talking about starting a painting group similar to what I had experienced in Cape Cod. That led to a discussion about the group having a purpose in addition to the camaraderie of  painting together.  We wanted our group to “paint for a purpose.”

Jane and I had both been involved in projects where young people had written grants. Both of us were inspired by what young people saw as important and the work they were willing to do to make change happen. We knew that this what the “purpose” we wanted to support.

2.  What are the main goals/focus for Painting for a Purpose?

We are a group of people who love to paint and who care about education and youth in Portland. PFP brings people together to create hand painted “whimsical” furniture, hosts an annual auction to sell the furniture, and uses the proceeds to fund youth led service learning grants. PFP meets weekly as a group to paint together.


  • To have fun together while painting and create camaraderie
  • To raise money for our annual auction
  • To help students put their ideas about how to make a difference in action
  • To be a funding source for youth led service learning grants in the Portland Public Schools.

3.   How many grants have you given out?

We have given out 14 grants in the past 2 years.  All of them have been written by students. They may apply for up to $500.

4.   What are the profits are used? How do students apply for the funding, what is it used for, do parents get involved?

Students apply for funding through an application process. They must identify a problem /issue in the community that they want to address. They must research the problem so that they have an understanding of the issue. This may involve conducting interviews, compiling data, or doing internet research. They need to understand the issue in order to propose a solution that will make a difference.  They must have an adult “ally” to sign off on the grant.

This person can offer guidance and support; however, the grant proposal has to be written by the students and be their project.

5.   Is the project growing? If so, what do you think has helped it along the way?

Yes, the project is growing. In our first year, we gave out 5 grants. In our second year, we gave out nine grants. We are an all volunteer organization so it is the efforts of people helping out that has made a huge difference. The more people learn about what we are doing, the more people then say—Hey that is a good idea. How can I help?

This year, we are doing something a little different. We have designed wooden lobster boats and dories for adult and student artists to paint. Working with the art teachers at the Portland Public High Schools, we have 12 art students paired with 12 local artists. They are working together as pairs to paint a lobster boat and dory. We also have 12 other adult artists who are also painting lobster boats.  These will be auctioned off in a live auction on November 8, 2012 in addition to the other painted items that we will have for the silent auction.

6.   What do you imagine (hope for) Painting for a Purpose will look like in 5 years, 2017?

  • I hope that we are a sustainable funding source for youth led service learning that the schools in Portland can depend on.
  • I hope that the core weekly painting group has grown to about 20 dedicated painters who are enthused about painting and the project.
  • I hope that the core weekly painting group continues to grow as painters and artists.
  • I hope that people in the city look forward to our auction because of the beautiful items that are for sale and because of the wonderful projects that students are doing.

7.   Which part of the project has been the most inspiring? (to you and others who have gotten involved)

I love the excitement and fun of painting together on a weekly basis. I love working with the schools and meeting new people in the Portland community. Mostly, I love hearing from students about how they want to make a difference.  It is always exciting for me to read the grants and equally as exciting to hear about what they learned in the process.

Last year I worked closely with one particular group and at the end, I asked then what was their biggest learning. Overwhelmingly it was to “Never Give Up.”  Very powerful words that I would hope for every student to learn.

The auction is scheduled for November 8, 5:30 to 7:30 PM at Grace Restaurant, 15 Chestnut Street, Portland, $10 for individuals, $25 for families. Thank you Tina for telling the story of PFP!

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